The fan’s view of Johnno
The Fan’s View
AN SPAILPÍN FÁNACH
CONSIDERING his well-known political affiliation, John O’Mahony is unlikely to be flattered by a comparison with former Taoiseach Charles J Haughey, but it’s hard to ignore the line of similarity in the public attitudes to both famous Mayomen.
The nation was split right down the middle in its attitude to Charles Haughey in the 1980s. Mr Haughey has gone to his eternal reward now, and in many ways the nation is none the wiser, and just as divided in terms of his legacy as ever. For John O’Mahony, there will be no way to blur the edges as Haughey did for so long and with such success. Mayo will either win the All-Ireland under O’Mahony or they will not, and Johnno will be canonised or condemned accordingly. It was ever thus in the Co Mayo.
There is never just one opinion on any issue in Mayo football. A man will tell you on Friday that such and such a player is the greatest ever to pull on the fabled jersey, while another will tell you on Monday that the same player is a bum and a punk. In the most worrisome of cases, the man that praises the player one day and slates him the next is the same person. Like the weather, he’s very changeable, and miserable more often than not.
And that’s the firing line to which John O’Mahony returns, 15 years since Roscommon’s Derek Duggan kicked a free from 60 yards in Castlebar to earn a draw against Mayo. Roscommon won the replay in the Hyde and John O’Mahony was served his papers as Mayo manager, two years after he led the county to its first All-Ireland final in 38 years.
Much has changed, in the game and in the nation, in those 15 years but there has been one constant, and that is that Mayo are still waiting to win their fourth All-Ireland title. The only one that knows for sure if O’Mahony will lead the county to the promised land is Almighty God, of course, but insofar as mortal opinion goes, it seems to An Spailpín Fánach that O’Mahony is the man for the job, and his appointment assures your correspondent of an optimistic Christmas, with the prospect of a rich footballing year to come.
Critics of O’Mahony – and they are out there – will tell you that Johnno was a lucky manager. When Mayo appear in All-Ireland finals we end up facing Kerry, the most successful county in the history of the game; Galway faced Kildare in 1998, who had won their first Leinster title in 39 years. This is a criticism of O’Mahony that chooses to ignore two things.
In this era of big name managerial appointments, only two men have won All-Irelands managing counties that were not their own; Eugene McGee with Offaly in 1982, and John O’Mahony with Galway in 1998 and 2001. No-one else has done it, though many have tried. But to An Spailpín’s mind, those two All-Ireland titles are not his greatest achievement as a manager.
John O’Mahony’s management of Leitrim in 1994 to that county’s first Connacht title since 1927 is the crowning glory of his inter-county career.
When scaled for size, Leitrim’s achievement in winning Connacht was greater than Galway’s in winning Sam. Whatever about Galway getting the breaks in 1998, Leitrim got none whatsoever in 1994. They had to play Galway in Tuam and Roscommon and ourselves in the Hyde.
That’s doing it the hard way. Leitrim is the smallest county in the country, and simple mathematics dictates that they will always have trouble finding players of inter-county standard. But they played as hard as they knew how for O’Mahony, they believed, and in the end Declan Darcy accepted the Nestor Cup to spark scenes of ecstatic celebration from Manorhamilton to Mohill and all points in between.
After a while, it’s not a coincidence any more. O’Mahony’s teams win. No-one is really sure how, and if Johnno himself knows, he’s not letting on, as usual. Perhaps he could be like the Wizard of Oz – the Wizard had no magic powers himself, but people thought he did, and because of that he ruled the land. It’s time for some green and red bunting on the Yellow Brick Road. Maigh Eo abú.
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